In 1971 the New York Times and the Washington Post released a set of documents known as the Pentagon Papers, which showed that the both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations had lied extensively to both Congress and the U.S. public concerning the Vietnam War. For the then sitting president, Richard Nixon, the smearing of the reputations of the past two Democratic presidents was a god send. However, it was also a little problematic given that for any president the widespread publishing of classified documents was not really a good precedent to have set. As a result, Nixon attempted to block the further release of the documents via a court order, though ultimately he failed when the Supreme Court ruled against him. Having tried the legal method, Nixon then switched to illegal tactics, putting together a crack team of ex-investigators which he tasked with the job of discrediting the source of the Pentagon Papers leak. This group called themselves the White House Plumbers, because they were tasked with plugging leaks. The Plumbers were so proud of their name that they put up a sign in their office, though they soon after took it down when someone pointed out that maybe advertising their existence was pretty dumb. So you know, maybe crack team wasn't exactly the best description for them.
Anyhow, the Plumbers basically failed at their assigned task and by the spring of 1972 all of them had been reassigned to Nixon's re-election campaign, which compared to doing illegal espionage was pretty fucking boring. However, being go-getters, they decided that the best way they could help their boss get re-elected for a second term was to break into the Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate Building and put some illegal wiretaps on the phones. Not wanting to get their own hands dirty, the Plumbers hired a rag tag group of five Cuban Freedom Fighters to do the break in on May 28, paying them with campaign funds. Amazingly enough the breaking in portion of the plan went off without a hitch. Unfortunately the planting of the bugs didn't go so well. As a result a second break in took place on June 17, which ended with the five men getting arrested after a security guard found duct tape on all the door latches.
Given the whole illegal wiretapping thing the FBI soon after began investigating the crime. It didn't take them long to connect things to the Plumbers given that one of the Cuban freedom fighters had their names in his address book. Given that the Plumbers were all working for the Nixon re-election campaign and were using campaign funds for illegal activities, this caused a bit of a panic that worked its way to the senior levels of the Nixon administration and clear to the president himself. This panic wasn't helped by the fact that within days of the break in the Washington Post started reporting that the arrested men had connections not only to the Plumbers and the Nixon re-election campaign, but also some higher level Nixon administration officials. This information came from a source that the paper called Deep Throat, after a popular porno movie of the time, who in actuality was a high level member of the FBI.
Nixon, not known for being the most level headed of men in the best of times, shit his pants with panic. Not only could a connection between the burglars and his administration and campaign risk his chances of re-election, but it also threatened to bring to light all the other less than illegal activities the Plumbers had done over the years. With straight up murder not really being an option, Nixon instead went with trying to derail the investigation by having the head of the CIA imply to the acting head of the FBI that the whole thing was a clandestine CIA operation and a matter of national security. The head of the FBI thought this was bullshit, but wanting to keep his job he personally destroyed some evidence connecting the five burglars to the Plumbers and began giving daily updates of the investigation to the White House. Nixon then had his aides promise to pay the legal fees of the five burglars and the Plumbers in return for keeping their damn mouths shut and lying under oath if necessary. Where did this money come from? Campaign funds of course.
The summer of 1972 was a strange one. As the FBI investigation continued, making greater and more complex links between the burglars and the Nixon re-election campaign, all dutifully reported to the Washington Post via Deep Throat, Nixon and his aides worked over time to distance themselves from the criminal activity. However, the bad news kept rolling in. In September the FBI reported that the Watergate break in was part of a massive campaign of political spying and sabotage on behalf of the Nixon campaign. The five burglars, several Plumbers, and several key members of the Nixon campaign were all indicted. None of it mattered at all due to the fact that Nixon's opponent was a man named George McGovern, a far to the left wingnut, at least for the time, whose running mate had been hospitalized for depression on numerous occasions. When faced with deciding between a man who surrounded himself with crooks and a crazy man who surrounded himself with more crazy people, the American public went with the man surrounded by crooks. In November, Nixon won re-election by the widest popular vote margin in American presidential history, winning all but one state.
Do you want to know more. Well, you'll have to check out Part 2 next week.